The Bukowski Agency - As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust - Excerpt
As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust

by Alan Bradley


IF YOU’RE ANYTHING LIKE ME, you adore rot. It is pleasant to reflect on the fact that decay and decomposition are what make the world go round.

For instance, when an ancient oak falls somewhere in the forest, it begins almost at once to be consumed by invisible predators. These highly-specialized hordes of bacteria lay siege to their target as methodically as an army of barbarians attacking an enemy fortress. The mission of the first wave is to break down the protein forms of the stricken timber into ammonia, which can then be easily handled by the second team, which converts the smelly ammonia to nitrites. These last, and final invaders, by oxidation, convert the nitrites into the nitrates which are required to fertilize the soil, and thus to grow new seedling oaks.

Through the miracle of chemistry, a colossus has been reduced to its essentials by microscopic life forms. Forests are born and die, come and go, like a spinning penny flipped into the air: heads…tails…life…death…life…death…and so on from Creation to the farthest ends of time.

It’s bloody marvelous, if you ask me.

Left to the mercies of the soil, dead human bodies undergo the same basic 1—2—3 process: meat—ammonia—nitrates.

But when a corpse is swaddled tightly in a soiled flag, stuffed up a brick chimney, and left there for a donkey’s age to char and mummify in the heat and the smoke—well, that’s an entirely different story.



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